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Travel Namibia 29 Dune rider You don’t have to stick to the roads on a driving tour of Namibia. In a 4WD you can learn to ride the incredible dunes of the Namib Naukluft Desert to rarely visited abandoned diamond mining towns and forgotten shipwrecks. No previous experience is necessary – just a sense of adventure, as Mary Askew found out. I can’t do it,” I gasped, staring down a seemingly vertical slope. “Trust me, it will be fine, just don’t put your foot on the brake or you’ll lose control of the back end,” said my grinning guide, Jacques. This was no ordinary driving lesson – there were no roads for tens of miles around, come to think of it there was nobody else for tens of miles. From my precarious viewpoint, crowned on the knife edge of a perfectly formed dune, I could only see wave upon wave of deep orange sand. We were in the northern tip of the Namib Naukluft desert and these were some of the tallest dunes in the world. I held my breath and with just a touch on the accelerator our 4WD started inching forwards down the dune’s slipface, sending everything that wasn’t strapped in hurtling into the foot wells. Then the most surprising thing happened – the dune started to roar, increasing in volume as we picked up speed until it sounded as if a jet was taking off right underneath us. I turned to Jacques who was still grinning insanely. “Isn’t it fantastic,” he mouthed over the strangely melodic noise. Apparently, not only is the sand of the Namib so old that the iron in it has literally rusted to give it its overwhelming colour, but the particles have a great deal of air trapped between them. When that air is forced out the resulting sound is so low and resonant it feels as if it is going straight through you. As we crested dune after dune my confidence behind the wheel grew. Jacques was always on hand, either sitting beside me or in a nearby vehicle on a two-way radio. Everyone got stuck at least once, even one of the guides who had driven in the desert hundreds of times. Rescuing each other’s vehicles was part of the fun and also taught us a lot about recovery - tips that came in useful during the rest of our driving holiday in Namibia. The Namibians are deeply protective of this area of their desert, where diamond mining ceased about 50 years ago and only a handful of people are now allowed in each month. With the right permit and the right guide you can drive through the dunes for a couple of days until you reach some old mining settlements. Everything is just as it was the day the last prospectors left, albeit

Driving test CLOCKWISE: Cresting a dune, the trip’s back-up vehicle makes it to the top - just. The Eduard Bohlen was beached in 1909 and is now home to a family of hyenas Just as they were left 50 years ago, cooking utensils in an abandoned mining town. Narra melons, a diet staple for the Topnaar people. witness this piece of history. From here on you can’t stop yourself scouring the ground whenever you stop for some gem that was overlooked by those pioneers. We saw no diamonds, but every now and then we drove past patches of powdered maroon garnet and the occasional pile of tiny glass-like discs of mica – a reminder of the riches that lured the workers to make the then treacherous journey from Walvis Bay. “The desert never fails to surprise you,” said Jacques when we woke on the second morning to find an overnight storm had piled sand high up against the sides of our tent. “The fog can be so thick in the morning that you can’t see 20 metres in front of you; then a sand storm may arrive, then blazing sunshine in the afternoon followed by a freezing night. I never tire of it.” At night, under the stars, we were treated to a traditional Namibian braai – a superior version of a barbeque. Cold beers were produced and huge steaks thrown on the grill. Jacques even rigged up a hot shower, using water warmed next to the flames. The desert here can go 10 years without rain yet incredibly the morning fog provides enough moisture to support a rich variety of wildlife that has adapted 30 Travel Namibia covered by the ever-encroaching sand. There are still beer mugs on the bar and pans on the stove; there are tools lying on the workers’ huts floors and sieves cast aside on the final day of panning. Of course people have visited before you but, because the wind blows sand over their footprints, you feel as if you are the first person to n Your vehicle’s tyres need to leave a large ‘footprint’ to be able to float on the sand, so reduce your tyre pressure to 0.8 bar. n Always approach a dune at 90 degrees and descend it at right angles in low range. Let your gears control your speed. n Momentum is the key to getting over a dune. You need just enough speed to make it to the top and no more. n If you car gets stuck then reverse down in your tracks and try again. n Never brake in sand, as this will just dig your tyres in. nIf you feel the back of the vehicle coming round as you descend a dune, accelerate gently. n Always follow in the tracks of the car in front of you to minimise the impact on the environment. n Don’t drive over the gravel plains found between dunes, as your tracks will take 50 to 100 years to disappear, while tracks in sand disappear overnight. TIPS: DRIVING IN THE SAND Ute von Ludwiger